Homes and gardens

Green Grama in Kerala is an Eden of exotic fruits from around the world

Kottarakkara is hardly the place where you would expect to come across fruits such as ugu, katemfe, olosapa, kubal, yellow jaboticaba, red jaboticaba, gac and more. Till you visit Hari Muraleedharan’s orchard on a 60-cent plot tucked in a by-lane, where he has grown nearly 600 varieties of fruit-bearing plants from different parts of the world.

I reach Kottarakkara on a grey, rainy day to meet Hari, who planted every sapling himself after he left his job as a Senior Scientist with Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre in Chennai.

Green Grama in Kerala is an Eden of exotic fruits from around the world

“My mother’s illness brought me back to my home town. I run a small firm, Easy Learn Charts, that makes wall charts on different subjects for children. While compiling the matter for a wall chart on fruits, I realised that only a handful of fruits was grown in Kerala when compared to the vast number of fruits that existed in the world,” recalls Hari. That thought planted the seed of an idea and Hari, a microbiologist with a doctorate in microbiology, learned that many of the edible fruits in the world were grown in places with tropical and sub-tropical climate.

‘Farmville’ enthusiast
  • Hari has two Facebook pages – Mannum Manasum (Soil and Mind) and Endunndu Kazhikkaan (What is there to eat?), which are an extension of his farming activities. With more than 43,000 members in the first one, the page is a space for members to post questions, share photographs and tips with other farm enthusiasts.
  • The other has photos and recipes posted by members. Showing a photo of Kokam juice, he says: “Fulljar soda is all the rage in Kerala. I have shown Kokum juice, which is popular in Goa and Maharashtra and has many medicinal properties as well,” he says.

“Kerala has a tropical climate and I was confident that many of the fruits would do well in our soil and climate. Kiwi, peach, plum and litchi require a temperate climate to thrive. Those would do well in places like Wayanad and Munnar. But many others that thrive in Thailand, Vietnam, Malayasia, Indonesia, West Africa and South America would also do well in Kerala,” he reasons.

He began reading up on everything he could find on the internet and started acquiring the names of fruits that were grown in tropical lands. He approached seasoned farmers and agriculture scientists for advice. However, Hari was not enthused by their response and he felt that there was a monopoly in the cultivation of certain fruits that some farmers wanted to maintain.

The budding farmer was also taken for a ride by unscrupulous farmers who gave him plants that would not fruit. “For instance, rambutan is of two kinds: male and female. I had got one from a nursery and looked after it for eight years. It would blossom but never bear fruit. That is when I discovered that mine was a male and that it would not bear fruits… So, I prefer sourcing my sapling and seeds from nurseries abroad to those here,” he explains. Through trial and error, Hari learnt on the job to be a farmer.

Green Grama in Kerala is an Eden of exotic fruits from around the world

He turned to social media for help. “People from different countries were generous with their time and advice. Some of them were big-time farmers with orchards running into thousands of acres. They were willing to send seeds and saplings to India and soon I was turning my neglected ancestral property into an orchard,” he says.

Farm fresh
  • Ugu is a kind of pumpkin from West Africa. Katemfe Fruit, a natural sweetener, is from the West African rainforests.
  • Kubal is a fruit-bearing vine that is native to Borneo and the Philippines.
  • Yellow Jaboticaba from Brazil has a fruit that tastes like pineapple while Jaboticaba, also from Brazil, is also known as wood grapes.
  • Gac, a kind of melon, has come from Vietnam.
  • Mangifera pajang, which is found in Borneo, is on the IUCN Red list of threatened species.
  • Olosapa from Eucador has a delicious fruit that is bright yellow in colour.

Steven Murray, a farmer of rare fruits from California, lent him a helping hand from across the ocean and so did Anster Menzomo from Brazil and Dada Vidyananda from Panama. In fact, both Steven and Anster visited his farm.

“They were generous with their time and resources and today I try to emulate them by keeping my farm open to all visitors. I also sell saplings and seeds of plants that they would like to grow,” he adds. Fruits that are sweeter than sugar, those that exude a subtle fragrance...there are several subjects on his farm to pique the interest of the scientist in him. His present research involves the plants he grows. “However, what caught my attention was the cherry. Usually, most cherries native to Kerala are extremely bitter, sour or tangy. I have developed one that is sweet and I have started selling the saplings too. I call it Green Grama Sweet 17 plum cherry,” he says.

His farm is now a haven for birds and butterflies. “During summers, I keep water bowls for the animals. They have plenty of food and water. My farm is filled with the symphony of birdsong,” says Hari with a smile.

Ten years later, Hari’s farm, Green Grama, has become a Mecca for those interested in farming fruits. He recalls with a smile that initially his parents were worried that their son was wasting his time on dreams that would not take root. Now, with a couple of awards and recognition, they are happy that his determination has borne fruit.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 2:59:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/hari-muraleedharans-green-grama-in-kottarakkara-is-an-eden-of-exotic-fruits-from-around-the-world/article28547702.ece

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